Four Reasons Not to Trust Ten-Best Lists [Chicago Reader blog post, 2006]

Film Four Reasons Not to Trust Ten-Best Lists

Posted By on 12.18.06 at 09:40 PM

One of the most cherished fantasies in the world of movies is that around this time every year we critics are all dying to think about the best films of the past 12 months — as if listmaking represented some particular populist need for consensus rather than the industry’s desire to resell goods that have already been sold to us again and again (or, in this neck of the woods, to presell goods that haven’t arrived yet).

I’ll admit that one list engenders another, and that once the game starts in earnest, every critic wants to be part of the discussion. But consider some of the drawbacks:

(1) Piles of movies getting released at the end of this year in such a manner that critics (and some audience members) don’t even have time to take them in, much less think about them. (Maybe that’s exactly what the studios want–snap judgment is another practice that serves the industry more than the audience.)

(2) Contortions by critics outside New York and Los Angeles who don’t want to come across as rubes and so vote for movies that most of their readers can’t see yet.

(3) An inevitable tendency to highlight recent films, privileging theatrical showings over DVDs.

(4) Overkill and exhaustion for reviewers and readers alike.

It’s hard to parse the polls at this point — to figure out what’s being dictated to us, what we’ve been trained to expect, and what we actually desire independently.

Your thoughts?

Tags: , , , Academy Awards

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The ten-best lists of the “mainstream” critics(Time, Entertainment Weekly,Rolling Stone, The daily newspapers)always seem composed of the same limited pool of fifteen to twenty films. You can almost predict the contents of their lists months in advance; the Oscars are similarly predictable. But how could a film from Iran or Taiwan or Thailand possibly measure up to the newest Almodovar opus? And there are still many prominent critics operating under the delusion that French cinema ended in 1984 with the death of Truffaut. Even so, as always, I am eagerly awaiting your list as well as the lists of other favorites- J. Hoberman, Manohla Dargis, B. Ruby Rich, Kent Jones,Dave Kehr, Chris Fujiwara et al.(On my previous list I forgot the two best films I saw this year- Cafe Lumiere and Three Times) Posted by Craig on 12/19/2006 at 7:05 AM

You’re not wrong, but at least a couple of your points are as attributable to the Oscar deadline and the big box office of the holiday season as to the ten-best tradition, don’t you think? Posted by Earl on 12/19/2006 at 2:03 PM

I appreciate your four points, especially your honesty about marketing realities and the ways you obviously implicate yourself in light of your previous writings favoring those sceenings, but I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve checked and rechecked your lists to find more that I may have had recent contact with to try and see. I live in Salt Lake and screenings are harder to catch on time with a newborn at home. But lists once made stick around for a while and I’ll catch those films them sometime down the line if I can. Of course there is distribution on the other hand. and two thought with that: 1) That without those lists some of those films may not get distribution 2) That without those lists I may not know of availability of seeing some entirely worthwhile film *now* that will never be available later. These are other important marketing realities that you, of all people are also aware of. But for those reasons, I thank you for your lists.

Posted by Trevor Banks on 12/20/2006 at 2:25 AM

Tomorrow on Chicagoist I’m posting “Top Ten Films We Didn’t See This Year.” Because most normal people just don’t get to see everything that’s worth seeing every year.

Posted by Rob on 12/21/2006 at 11:58 AM

Slant Magazine provides fantastic criticisms and their lists are fun as well. They put some thought into what they do.
Posted by Jake on 01/26/2007 at 12:58 PM
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